- 300 to 400 green beans – about 100g per person
- cooking oil for deep-frying (sunflower or groundnut oil)
For the batter
- self-raising flour
- Chinese white rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
For the seasoning
- red chilli
- spring onion
- crushed Sichuan peppercorns
- First make your batter. For every 100g self-raising flour add about 150 ml water and 4 tsp vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar) and a good pinch of salt. Beat it well and leave to stand for about 20 minutes until the bubbles rise to the surface. Chef Peng and Qin Xie say you need a batter that’s quite thick and gloopy. With those proportions I found my batter was a little runny but I liked the tempura like texture with the batter lightly clinging to the beans rather than giving them a heavy coat.
- Trim your green beans and, if necessary, break into lengths about the size of chips.
- Dry roast a handful of Sichuan peppercorns in a wok or frying pan and grind them in a pestle and mortar when cool
- Peel and finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic, the white part of a spring onion and a medium heat red chilli. You can dial up or down the chilli heat to taste.
- Heat a few cms of oil in a wok or deep frying pan to about 180 degrees C. You want the oil to be deep enough and hot enough to deep-fry each bean. Test by cooking one bean. It should take about a minute to cook.
- Dip the beans in the batter to coat and drop them one by one into the hot oil being careful not to splash yourself. Use a mesh strainer to remove them from the oil when cooked. I cooked the beans in three to four batches, ensuring they didn’t touch each other and the oil had a chance to come back to temperature between batches. You want them to be golden but not burnt. Drain the beans on kitchen paper.
- When all the beans are cooked. dry-fry the garlic, spring onion and chilli briefly to release the aromas. Toss in the green beans to heat through. Season with crushed Sichuan pepper and salt to taste and serve immediately.
Where to start on this. So much to say! I suppose I should start by saying that these are not chips as you know them, they are french beans. And they are not really a main course, but of a size and type suitable for a multi-plate dinner of Chinese dishes. Partly because that is their origin, I first had these at the Hunan Restaurant in Pimlico, London as part of a tapas style Carte Blanch meal that Mr Peng specialises in. Mr Peng is the Chef patron of Hunan, a lovely welcoming man who has run this place for 35 years and in some peoples eyes has made it into the best Chinese restaurant in London (if not the UK). I am in that number, I am a huge fan of Hunan and a devotee of Mr Peng.
Hunan's cooking is a mix of styles, Taiwanese, Hunan, Szechuan and is served as a succession of tapas style plates. They are miraculous mouthfuls of taste and spice. Mr Peng works the palate with different kinds of heat and flavour in a way that beguiles. The Chinese have expressions for the different kinds of heat that different spices give and Mr P knows them all. I have given his recipe for Pork and beansprouts before, and I hope you have tried it because it shows his skill in taking few ingredients and making fabulous flavours.
This technique, for which the current subject is French Beans, can be used on a wide variety of vegetables (try aubergines cut into matchsticks - fantastic) or even seafood such as squid. It is that useful a technique, and I have not had a bad variant yet. Give it a go - you probably have all the ingredients to hand anyway.